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Symptoms Of Opiate Use

Written by Opiates | Published on March 30, 2018 | Updated on July 15th, 2020,

It is not always easy to discern whether or not someone is abusing opiates. As strange as this may sound, because logic would suggest that spotting a opiate addict should be fairly simple, when it comes to addiction, often times logic goes out of the window.

This is partially because addiction likes to operate in the grey areas of life and partially because individuals who are abusing opiates become rather adept at hiding their addiction as times goes on. For one addicts often times create just enough plausible deniability that the people closest to them begin to question their own sense of reality. For instance, let’s say that you notice your son continually nodding-out through the day. If you already have suspicion that that they are abusing drugs, then the logical conclusion would be that they are unfortunately abusing opiates. However, when confronting an addict along these lines, they will have a number of excuses for their actions and since they are immovable in their retorts, many times the loved ones acquiesce and begin to believe the lie.

Not to mention that no one really wants to believe that their loved one is addicted to opiates, and so when offered an excuse for why this is not the case, people have a tendency to latch onto that so that they can deny the terrible truth that their son, daughter, brother, or significant other has an issue with opiates.

This is not a judgment against people who are finding it difficult to come to terms with the fact that their loved one has an opiate use problem, but simply the facts of what oftentimes occurs within active addiction.

What is even more interesting is the fact that addicts can easily convince themselves that they do not have a problem with opiates. They can understand that they use opiates everyday and when they do not use them they suffer withdrawals and yet they can still believe the lie that they are in control of their using. This is mostly baffling to everyone who has not experienced it first hand, but to the addict this sort of denial makes sense. They believe that their true problem lies with others—the fact that the law won’t leave them alone, or that their loved ones nag them all of the time, totally dismissing the fact that all of their issues stem from their opiate abuse.

With all of that said, if you think that you or your loved one may have an issue with opiate abuse then take a look a the symptoms of opiate use discussed below, so that you can get a better understanding for what is going, and have a better understanding for how to help your loved one.


The terms opiate and opioid are fairly interchangeable in today’s lexicon, but there is a distinction between the two drug categories that is important to note. Opiates, when referred to correctly, are any drug that is derived from the opium poppy plant, whereas opioids produce similar effects to opiates but are totally synthetic and created in a laboratory setting.

Opiates are some of the oldest drugs known to man and for well over a millennia they have been used to treat pain and many other medical ailments. However the drawback with opiates is that they are highly addictive and can produce addiction is a fairly short period of time.

With other substances it may take months or years in order for physical dependency to set in, but with opiates this same thing can occur after only a few uses. In fact with heroin, addiction can occur after the first usage, which makes using this drug highly dangerous.


When many people think of opiates they immediately think of heroin, but there are many other opiate substances that are abused everyday. In fact one such substance, morphine, is thought to be semi-responsible for the increase in overdose related deaths that we have seen in this country over the past few years.

The most commonly abused opiates are:

  • Heroin
  •  Morphine
  •  Opium
  •  Codeine

While it may not seem like it matters, it is important to understand what form of opiate your loved is taking so that you can better understand the symptoms they are displaying and help them when the time comes.

For instance, if they are abusing codeine, they may have just started out in their addiction, or they may be getting this prescription from a doctor. Due to this, you may be able to intervene a little easier then if they are abusing heroin.

In this same regard if your loved one is abusing heroin or morphine then they are more than likely a little further along in their addiction and the urgency with which they need help increases. This is not to say that there isn’t urgency with codeine or the other opiates on the list, but in regards to heroin and morphine, they can be the most lethal opiates and can cause the greatest amount of damage to an individual’s life.


Like stated above it is not always easy to distinguish when an individual is abusing opiates. In some cases it is glaringly obvious as they may have track marks from injecting opiates, but most of the time an addict is rather good at hiding what they are up to. They will have a thousand excuses that they will use in order to misdirect your suspicions, but with that said, there are ways to see through this to the truth.

The first thing that you will want to do is ask yourself the following 5 questions. If you answer yes to the following questions then your loved could possibly have a substance abuse issue. It should be noted, that answering yes to these questions is not always indicative of a substance abuse problem, and sometimes it may mean that there is some other mental health or social issue going on.

  1. Have they become increasingly more moody, irritable, nervous, or secretive recently?
  2. Have they been spending more money than they usually or they do ask for money more than usual?
  3. Has their relationship with friends and family began to change recently, meaning do they appear to be more withdrawn?
  4. Has their appearance began to change—have they lost weight, or do they look tired?
  5. Have they been withdrawing from things they used to love or important work that needs to get done?

If you have asked yourself these questions and you are still not sure whether or not your loved one is using opiates then read on, and take note of any of the following symptoms of opiate use, and whether or not they are present in your loved.


The following is a list of the most commonly displayed symptoms of opiate use in individuals who have been abusing the substance. While these symptoms could be symptomatic of something else, when displayed together it is usually because opiate abuse is occurring. If you witness these symptoms of opiate use in your loved, you should first reach out to them and see if they are willing to discuss their usage with you. If they are not then it might be time to seek professional help, to weigh out your options.


Periods of elation or euphoria

Even though most people would think of opiates as a depressant in the sense that individuals who use them often times “nod out”, it does however act as a stimulating factor among some users. For instance if an individual is going through withdrawals and then they use opiates, they may go from being depressed to elated in a very short period of time. These mood swings or periods of mania can be indicative of opiate use.

Drowsiness or Constantly tired

If you notice that your loved one is more tired than usual or they always appear to be lethargic then this could be symptomatic of opiate use. Since these substances are so strong they often times have an anesthetizing effect on the individuals who use it, so if notice that your loved one has gone from being very active to singularly inactive, then they may be abusing opiates.


Very often individuals who abuse opiates and are currently on them will appear to be confused. It may be to the point where they are unaware of their surroundings, and if this is the case, then professional medical help should be sought immediately, but in other cases it is simply a matter of them not remembering things that you just talked about, or not remembering certain events from previous days. Opiate addicts don’t necessarily experience blackouts like alcoholics do, but they can forget things similarly.

Constricted or small pupils

One of the most prominent symptoms of opiate use is constricted, or small pupils. This is does not mean that they are out in the sun and their pupils get small, but rather that no matter where they are they exhibit the same constricted pupils. There is nothing that an opiate user can do to hide this symptom, so if you suspect that your loved one is using opiates, pay attention to their pupil size.

Constant itching

We have all seen TV shows depicting heroin addicts as itchy people who cannot stop scratching, and although TV often times does not portray addiction correctly, in this case they are fairly spot on. Many times a person who is abusing opiates will constantly scratch themselves, and in some case even begin to mutilate themselves by picking at their skin.

Shallow breathing

This one may be a little more difficult to pick up on, as you have to be fairly close to the individual in order to spot it, but opiates depress the respiratory system causing the individual to experience shallow breathing. This is most prominent when the individual is asleep.

Nodding off, or loss of consciousness

One of the most blatant symptoms of opiate use is nodding off or a temporary loss of consciousness. This essentially looks like the individual is just falling asleep but it usually while they are in the middle of a sentence or while they are performing some action that should keep them awake. If you notice that your loved one appears to be falling asleep in this manner and at random times then they may be suffering from opiate addiction.


Many individuals, especially those who are just starting to use opiates will experience nausea, even to the point of vomiting. If you notice that your loved one is experiencing stomach problems more often than normal then this may be cause for concern.

Rashes or flushed skin

Extended opiate usage will case the skin to appear a greyish color, but at the same time the individual will appear flush when they are under the influence. Opiates have a tendency to do this, as they raise the body’s temperature.

Complaints of Constipation

This one may not come up in conversation, but it is a very common symptom of opiate use. Individual who abuse opiates, or who even use opiates for an extended period of time, will experience constipation from one degree to another.

Slurred speech

Going along with the temporary loss of consciousness is usually slurred or slowed speech. You may notice that if your loved one is under the influence of opiates, they will find it incredibly difficult to communicate and not slur their speech. One of the issues with extended addiction is that as time goes on they will be able to hide this symptom with easy, but in the beginning their speech problems will be more prominent.

Sleep paralysis

Another common symptom of opiate use is experiencing sleep paralysis. What this looks like in the individual experiencing it is REM sleep and the paralysis that comes with it, but yet they are semi-conscious. People who have seen individuals on opiates who have had this happen described how the individual was up on their side with their eyes open but they were clearly asleep. This can be a frightening thing to witness and any even more frightening thing to experience.